How To Play Golf: A Step by Step Guide For Beginners
(Everything You Need To Know To Start Playing Golf)
As a longtime golf coach, I see hundreds of beginners every year who grow frustrated with the game of golf and quit far too quickly.
Starting with expectations that are too high is a recipe for disaster. Most don’t realize that there is a process of building a lifelong love of golf.
This guide will take you through what every beginner should know before setting foot on the green.
Don’t have time to read the whole guide right now?
No worries. I can send you a digital copy so you can read it when it’s convenient for you. Just let me know where you’d like me to send it to (takes 3 seconds).
What You Will Learn In This Post
Finding the Perfect Golf Equipment
The most exciting time for a beginning golfer is finding clubs to start their journey.
Most don’t want to spend a lot of money to get started. This is perfectly fine.
A great way to get started is to pick an older set: it has gone through the years and is often available for a minimal amount of money.
5 Tips for Putting Together the Perfect Starter Golf Club Set
Tip #1: Start your set with these 5 clubs
I always urge my introductory students to get no more than five clubs. They are a 7-iron, 9-iron, gap wedge, sand wedge, and putter.
The gap wedge should be 52-degrees, and the sand wedge should be 56-degrees.
Tip #2: Go to a local pro shop or superstore to find quality clubs
So where do we buy individual clubs? A local pro shop or nearby golf superstore is a great place to start your hunt.
I would encourage you to go to the local pro shop to feel the club and, if possible, take a few swings to know this is the club for you. If it is, we recommend to buy the club online as prices are usually much cheaper than in a local golf shop.
Tip #3: Ask a professional to help you in finding the right clubs for you
When you go into a shop or store for your search, find a knowledgeable staff member and explain your plan. They’ll be an excellent resource for picking the super-game improvement clubs that you’ll need for your set.
Tip #4: Find the right shaft flex and club head for you
When talking with a golf professional, two things are critical to ask for when finding the right clubs.
The first is that the club heads are cavity-backed with perimeter weighting. These clubs are the simplest method of getting the golf ball into the air. As your swing progresses, these clubs will make the learning curve easier and maximize your enjoyment of the sport.
The second thing to look for is the measure of flex on the shaft of the club. Clubs typically offer a ladies, senior, regular, stiff and extra stiff shaft. Ask the professional for help determining which shaft is correct for you.
You may also want to shop for new clothing, as specifically designed golf clothing will reduce sweat and be more comfortable. Particularly golf shoes will be a must have as a game of golf comes with a few hours spent walking as well as golf gloves for sweaty hands.
Pro Tip: Use The Sole’s Width To See If Club Fits You
An excellent method for determining if an iron is right for you is based on the width of the sole of the club.
If the bottom sole is around the width of two fingers, then it’s a perfect candidate for your golf bag. Anything slimmer than this and you are asking for problems when you get to the driving range.
Tip #5: After purchasing, put new grips on immediately
Quality used golf clubs are instantly restored with new grips. The cardinal rule for changing out your golf grips is every 40 rounds.
Most amateurs I know, never stick to this rule and when buying used clubs, you can bet that the previous owner didn’t either. So when you find the right club, immediately get them re-gripped by a professional.
I want small victories from my beginning students and that is why I always suggest starting with a reduced golf club set. The worst thing a beginner can do is to show up to the range with a 14-club set, pull out the driver and attempt to hit 50 perfect balls at the 250-yard sign.
By reducing your focus to these specific five clubs, you are preparing your swing for success.
Taking the Right Mindset to the Golf Course
Building the proper swing takes time and patience.
And a lot of golf balls.
Because the returns are long-term, it’s essential that you maintain a strong winner mindset throughout each game.
We’ll show you exactly what you need to do to never be discouraged and always think forward.
Seeking & Finding The Right Help
The best advice I can give you is to find a golf mentor before taking a swing.
The benefits of having a professional to guide your way are plentiful and numerous.
First, by having the correct fundamentals in place as you start golfing, your learning curve will be much shorter than those who go at it alone.
Another great reason for hiring a professional is that they can offer immediate feedback when you struggle. These dedicated professionals will support and encourage you to stick with the game and continue to get better.
On top of that, we also offer tons of free informational content including on how to properly grip your club, how to break 80 or our list of all-time best golf tips.
Make Sure You Have Fun While Playing
There should be no greater reason to take up golf than the pursuit of happiness.
Golf is a challenging game that will certainly test your patience but it also gives you the opportunity to share time with family and friends.
When you find yourself irritated that your swing isn’t progressing as fast you’d like it in the early days of your golfing journey, remember to keep your smile and always seek out ways to make the game fun.
An Extreme Learning Approach: How PGA Pro Bubba Watson Has Never Taken A Single Golf Lesson
Much has been made over the years of how two-time major winner Bubba Watson never took a lesson from a professional. I’m not recommending you take this approach, but there is a lesson I feel every golfer needs to take from Watson’s story and that is how he built his swing over the years by being creative.
Growing up, Watson would intentionally create inventive obstacles to work shots with the golf ball. He would hit plastic golf balls in his living room around chairs, couches, and lamps.
When Bubba ventured outside, he would find trees to assist him in shaping shots. He would master hitting balls high, low and around these trees to perfect his ability to play from anywhere.
Known for playing complete rounds with a single club, Watson thrived on challenging himself to be unique with his golf game. Watson’s emphasis on creatively having fun when playing golf is a terrific takeaway for the beginning golfer.
Creating a Foolproof Pre-Shot Routine
After receiving a thorough lesson on the correct grip, proper stance, and tempo, you’ll begin to feel the mechanics of a golf swing. Once you start to understand the swing the best way to gain consistency is to work on a pre-shot routine.
Pro Tip: Visualize Your Swing Using The Target Line
Tiger Woods’ pre-shot routine begins behind the ball, holding the club in his right hand. He looks down the target line for his shot while visualizing his swing.
The great takeaway from Woods’ routine is that he finds an alignment spot a few feet in front of his ball that goes down the target line. By using this spot ahead of the golf ball, Tiger stays aligned at address.
Every golfer’s routine is different, and you must experiment to find the process that gives you the most confidence.
But like Tiger’s pre-shot methods, several essential pieces form a productive pre-shot routine.
The first is visualization. You need to see each shot before you address the golf ball.
By perceiving the shot in your mind, you focus on the indispensable parts of your golf swing.
Seeing the quiet takeaway of the golf club, the proper shoulder turn, the solid base of flexed legs and the correct plane that your club follows to contact are all necessary items on your checklist when picturing the swing in your mind.
For the amateur, my next suggestion is always to take a few practice swings to get a feel for the upcoming swing and to keep the muscles loose between shots. This practice swing can be taken while visualizing the forthcoming shot.
Borrowing from Tiger, find your target line and then your alignment spot in front of the golf ball. At address, make sure that you are square to this line, and by doing this, your golf ball won’t be sent offline after contact.
Once you have settled on a proper pre-shot routine, then take it to the range and implement it in your practice sessions. This idea may seem foreign at first, but when you begin to play actual holes, you’ll want to transfer everything you’ve worked on to the course.
Using Your Woods & Irons
So we’ve got our equipment and established our pre-shot routine.
And by now you’ve sought the help of a mentor to tailor the right swing for you and ensure you maintain a winner mindset.
Next, let’s take a look at four swing principles to keep in mind when hitting irons and woods.
Bend From The Waist For Better Posture
Bending from the waist helps with your balance and allows the club to take a natural path around your body. When addressing the golf ball, you want to feel natural yet maintain a straight line along your back for correct posture.
You don’t want to be rigid and lock your back into an inflexible position, but most amateurs will fall into the trap of slumping their upper body when swinging the golf club.
With a straight back, the feet become incredibly important in maintaining balance throughout swinging the club. Having your feet at shoulder-width apart will allow the hips to engage and help complete a proper takeaway.
On the follow through, a stable foundation will permit the hips to clear and for the clubface to square at impact.
Ball Positioning Determines Ball Flight
Where you address the golf ball is vitally important to its ultimate path and how it correlates to the target line.
If the ball is too far back in the stance, then the ball will fly low and become susceptible to a slice or hook path of flight.
The ideal position when using an iron is slightly ahead of the center of the sternum.
Anything farther than this and you open yourself up to topping your golf shots with weak contact.
Each club will dictate where you place the ball in your stance. If you are using a driver, you might tee the ball and put it inside your front foot’s heel to encourage an upswing at impact.
You will want to experiment with your irons and woods when you feel a level of competence with your swing to determine the best placement for your swing.
Position Your Feet In Relation To The Golf Ball
One of the biggest mistakes that amateurs make is not understanding how the relation of your feet to the golf ball at address affects the outcome of the swing.
If your feet are below the golf ball, then you are susceptible to drawing the ball or pushing it to the left of your intended target. In contrast, if your feet sit higher than the ball at address, then you are likely to fade your golf ball or find it moving to the right of where you want it to land.
Based on the elevation, you’ll need to make adjustments to your alignment and intended target line. When practicing, find similar areas that will train your swing when faced with both situations.
Know Your Distances With Each Club
Finding out the distances you’ll achieve with each club will take time as you find yourself getting stronger as your fundamental approach becomes tighter and well rounded.
But as you grow with your swing, pay attention to the yardage area you commonly find your shots landing within.
Having this knowledge will allow you to make adjustments based on the structure of each hole.
If there is an uphill approach shot awaiting you from 150 yards, then you know that you’ll need more than the 8-iron you’d use if the hole were level.
Even more important is when using your wedges to know your distances with variations of your swing.
Half-swings and three-quarter swings will give you different yardage with various clubs. Know this yardage like the back of your hand as it will allow you to get closer to the hole when you need to save par.
Putting is about technique and consistent repetition.
When it comes to the short game, repetition is always the name of the game.
The more you work on your putting stroke, the better you’ll be when these shots come up in competitive play.
Focus On Mastering Your Grip
The first place to begin is with the grip. The putting grip is different than the ones we use for our swing.
Rather than overlapping our pinky fingers, we join our hands to create a stable point from where to swing the putter.
Several putting grips are popular among golfers today. Tiger Woods is a massive fan of the traditional grip.
My grip is conventional. The handle runs under the butt of my left hand, and the back of my right hand is parallel to my left. I position both thumbs directly down the top of the handle, and my left forefinger lies across the fingers of my right hand, to provide unity.Tiger Woods
Another popular approach is the cross-handed grip that pros like Jim Furyk adopted after seeing legends like Arnold Palmer and Gary Player use this grip to massive success.
Other grips include split handed and the claw grip where the bottom hand holds the putter like a writing pen.
When choosing a grip, first consult with your coach about the approach they feel would work best for you.
Pro Tip: Feel The Weight Of The Putter Head
For many professional golfers, Ben Crenshaw was the most exceptional putter they’d ever seen around the greens.
The two-time Masters winner prided himself on a measured and gentle approach to holding the putter. Crenshaw always wanted to feel the weight of the putter head as it passed through the ball.
Crenshaw once said, “(The putter) should be held as a delicate instrument because you are doing delicate work”. When holding the putter, you certainly need to heed Crenshaw’s advice and not strangle the grip when addressing the golf ball. Remember that putting is always about reading the green and then adapting your stroke to the speed and break the putt demands.
A Calm Body Is A Putter’s Best Friend
After you have chosen your grip, you’ll want to work on your stance. With your feet shoulder-width apart, you’ll want the ball slightly forward of the center of your stance.
The most important thing to remember when making a putting stroke is to keep your head still. If you cheat your eyes looking forward to see if the putt finds the cup, then you’ll sacrifice quality contact with the putter face.
Drill: The Gate Drill
This practice session involves taking two alignment rods, or golf clubs if you don’t have rods, and creating a lane to the hole. You want to take the rods and place them slightly outside each edge of the cup but also making sure that they are wider than the width of your putter.
Take your golf ball and place it several inches inside the opening of the lane. By having the rods there, you have the physical boundaries that keep you on a straight arc with your putter’s takeaway and follow through. Hitting a hundred of these putts with each of your short game practice sessions will create the muscle memory needed to have your putting aligned and in tune for those initial rounds.
With a fundamentally solid stroke, you’ll be draining putts in little time.
One of the greatest areas that amateurs ignore when thinking about how to shave strokes from their scores is through chip shots from just off the green.
For amateurs, chipping isn’t as attractive as draining 50-foot putts or hitting 300-yard drives but being efficient with your chipping around the hole is critically important to improving your game.
A Unique Grip Will Provide Better Contact
One of the most significant problems that amateurs face when chipping is dealing with weak contact.
Far too often beginners hit behind the golf ball causing them to “chunk” the chip.
Another flub for first-timers includes hitting the upper half of the ball causing a thin shot known as a “blade” that is hard to control.
A great way to alleviate these issues is to approach your chipping by first using your putting grip when holding the club. By doing this, the beginner creates immediate confidence by using a grip they that gives them comfort.
Firm Wrists Will Prevent Weak Contact
After establishing a grip, one of the major steps of chipping is the relation of ball placement and the location of the wrists at impact.
What you want to avoid when chipping is the instinct to try to lift the ball with the clubface rather than finishing the stroke and letting the loft of the club to do the work.
This is why strong wrists are important when striking the golf ball. Failure to keep the wrists firm and the club face down causes the chunks and blades we are hoping to avoid.
Putting The Ball Back In The Stance Lets The Club Do All The Work
When addressing the golf ball for chipping, most professionals like to take a tight stance with their feet. By doing this, they leave the ball in the back of their stance so that their hands press forward at impact.
When you put the ball back in your stance, the clubface traps the golf ball sending it low with topspin and you’ll find it easier to control.
Drill: Maximize Efficiency
Chipping with efficiency from off the green can be a terrific way to save strokes for the beginning golfer.
An exercise that I love to use with my golfers is finding an area on the practice green that is a couple of yards outside of the putting surface. Don’t bury yourself in heavy rough, instead find a flatter area with shorter grass.
When working on this aspect of your game, focus solely on speed as it relates to the distance of the hole. The goal isn’t to make the putt but rather to stop the putt as close to the hole as possible.
Find a zone around the hole that you feel is a comfortable range for you to make a high percentage of putts from. Let’s say it is three feet on each side of the hole. I like taking two golf balls and placing each ball around three feet to the right and left of the hole.
Then when working on your chips, envision a large circle using the golf balls in that three-foot area around the hole. All my chips need to fit inside that circle. As time passes and your skills adapt, move that circle tighter and tighter for more intense and focused practice. You’ll be setting up tap-ins for pars in no time and avoiding those round-killing three putts.
By consistently getting your chips closer to the hole, you reduce the distance of your final putts. This equates into more pars and saving yourself from disasters like double and triple bogeys.
Becoming comfortable with chipping early in your golfing journey will provide the opportunity to lower your scores quickly.
Playing the Game the Right Way
After all the work to build your swing, you are now ready to play 18 holes!
But you simply can’t jump on the golf course without an understanding of how the game is played.
With that in mind, after you book your tee time, four areas need your attention before you hit the course.
Focus Area #1: Warmup
Arrive at the golf course no later than 30 minutes before your tee time. After taking care of your green and cart fees, grab a bucket of practice balls to get your swing in tune before the round.
Before hitting the balls on the range, take a few minutes first to gently stretch. Flexibility is essential in swinging the golf club with consistency over the course of 18 holes.
Warming up your muscles with a few stretches before hitting a couple of dozen balls is the perfect combination to assure that it won’t take six holes before you find your stride.
The first exercise I encourage my beginners to do when they reach the range is to take a club, grip both ends, raise it above your head and move it behind you to stretch out your shoulders. Don’t be afraid to combine this exercise with leaning over causing your hamstrings to stretch which helps the back.
Stretches that loosen your back, hamstrings, calves, and arms are a great place to begin your day at the course.
Focus Area #2: Attire
Always know what is expected of your wardrobe when you are to play at a golf club. Most clubs require collared shirts, and some only allow golf shorts during the hottest months of the year.
Calling ahead and asking for the requirements from the pro shop makes sure that you aren’t caught scrambling, or worse, having to buy a $60 shirt to play your round.
But all of this can be avoided if you prepare for your round by purchasing a lightweight, collared golf shirt that has moisture wicking properties to keep you dry. These types of shirts are plentiful and no longer cost prohibitive. Plus they should adhere to any standards that a local pro shop could use as a rule for players.
Focus Area #3: Hydration & Food
Since golf is most typically a warm weather sport, you need to pay close attention to your nutrition and hydration when hitting the links.
Pre-round meals that work best for golfers include lean proteins such as turkey and chicken and, if your round is early in the morning, then look to eat bran-centric cereals and fruits such as bananas.
When making the turn on the golf course avoid hitting the club’s bar and loading up on sugary drinks and foods high in salt and fats. Instead, pack low-sugar protein bars or lean toward a healthier option like peanut butter with sliced apples.
Before you start your round make sure that you are sufficiently hydrated. As you progress through the round, continue to drink water between holes. I always encourage my students to drink at least 12 ounces on the front nine, then again at the turn and during the back nine.
Focus Area #4: Understand The Game Rules
Before you begin to play golf regularly, I think it is crucial to know the rules of the game. I urge every beginner I teach to grab a copy of the USGA Rules of Golf. Other handbooks and instructional books offer more accessible ways to learning the rules of the game, but for my money, the USGA book is the place to begin.
The reason why I think it’s important to know the rules of the game is because when you begin to keep score, you will want a standard set of rules as a backdrop to your improvement as a golfer.
Most amateurs will take mulligans, kick golf balls from behind trees and pickup putts from a short distance rather than holing out. There is a time and place for this relaxed style of golf but to determine how you are getting better I recommend playing by the rules every time.
Focus Area #5: Play Ready Golf
When planning your day at the course, understand that a round of 18 holes with three other players usually takes around 4-5 hours to complete.
Don’t drag the group down by taking several minutes with each shot. Or on joking about the importance of maintaining the lawn.
As others hit around you, stay at the ready to begin your pre-shot routine. When it’s your time to hit your shot, you’ll be prepared to play while keeping the steady pace of your playing partners.
They will appreciate your speed of play and show patience during your additional strokes as a beginner.
Now It’s Your Turn
From choosing the correct equipment to finding the right coach, the beginner must learn that each club has to be approached in a unique and measured way.
By following these tips and using the drills outlined in this guide, you’ll be dropping strokes from your scores with each practice session!
Trusting in your approach is incredibly important when you finally make your way to the golf course to play holes. Remember to respect the game and those who play alongside you for a lifetime of joy!